Feldpost 1914-1918

Postmarks

The high command well aware of the importance of mail for soldiers. Morale was boosted if they had news from the Fatherland. It is estimated that over 28 billion postal items passed through the German military post office during the 4 years of the war.

Modern means of communication like telegraph and telephone were not very accessible to ordinary soldiers and their families. Most postal exchanges involved letters,  postcards, parcels, and money transfers. Most types of soldiers' mail were postage free.

At the beginning of the war:

The German military postal service was organised in anticipation of a new conflict with France. Its experience of the 1870 war had improved the service, but not enough to cope with the enormous upheaval that the 1st World War would bring. The Field Post was certainly prepared for a war of movements, but not to such an extent and over such long distances. At the start of the conflict, the Field Post experienced major difficulties in transporting mail. Even its own means of transport (usually horse-drawn), which had been planned for a long time, proved insufficient in number and quality.

Of course, the Field Post used the rail links, but it did not have priority and so took second place behind troop and munitions transport. Moreover, the troops were moving so fast that it not always known where they were, so the mailbags could not be forwarded.

Similarly, the civilian Post Office and the army Post Office had not at all expected such an influx of mail and parcels in both directions.

All these factors combined meant that large volumes of mail and parcels were waiting in Germany for the front, or at the front for Germany.

It wasn't until the end of 1914 that the system began to work properly. The trench warfare greatly facilitated the work of the Feldpost.

1915-1916:

The system works well on all fronts. The Field Post got organised. The regulations governing military mail became stricter on how to write at the front, as addresses were often very vague and required lengthy research. The regulations also applied to the contents of letters and parcels. In fact, anything could be found in parcels sent both by families and by soldiers. Perishable foodstuffs and other matches or flammable liquids sent by families could damage all or part of a mail wagon's load. Similarly, ammunition sent as war prizes by soldiers to their families could be very dangerous.

The hardest thing for the Post Office (both civilian and military) to manage was the shortage of manpower. The civilian postal staff who were fit were either posted to the field post offices or to combat units. In Germany, these civil servants had to be replaced by auxiliary staff (male and female), who had to be trained and did not always perform well. In the army post offices, suitable staff could also be assigned to combat units, so here too, auxiliary staff had to be used, who also did not perform as well as experienced civil servants. Moreover, the German Army was creating new divisions, each with its own post office. Experienced staff had to be transferred to these new offices.

1917-1918:

Things became even more complicated from the end of 1917, as shortages of all kinds (spare parts and fuel for cars, grease, and coal for trains) and preparations for the major offensives in the spring and summer of 1918 severely hampered the postal service. The existing resources were essentially geared towards the needs of the Army. Germany was short of everything and all the administrations were suffering. Despite this, the 1918 offensives were well-prepared at postal level, as the service had to be brought back into the dynamic of a manoeuvre warfare. In addition, where the attacks were to take place, the terrain, and infrastructure had been destroyed by several years of fighting, either by the Germans themselves or by the Allies.

In the spring and summer of 1918, the Feldpost was able to supply the troops without any major problems. The biggest issue, however, was the lack of rail services for transporting troops and munitions. The masses of parcels sent by soldiers to their families were also a real concern. As families lacked everything in Germany, soldiers sent them goods or food that they had bought or looted in the occupied territories.

When the tide turned and the Allied offensives broke through the German front, the Feldpost was forced to retreat with the troops. The lack of means of transport considerably reduced the delivery of mail and parcels, which was still very important. From October 1918, even ordinary soldiers knew what the situation was and everyone tried to save what they could (food, objects, clothes, cloth, money) by sending it to Germany by post.

The days following the Armistice were a time of chaos in the remaining occupied territories (mainly Belgian), which were in the process of being evacuated. The Army Post Office no longer functioned, as staff were on the move to Germany.

Date stamps:

From the time of mobilisation, post offices were equipped with single-circle date stamps. Subsequently, and quite quickly, post offices received new date stamps. These contained a date in the form of day/month/year, whereas the single-circle date stamps only contained the day and month. The practice of not indicating the year on field post date stamps came from the fact that, until then, wars were short: one year at most. There was therefore no point in indicating the year. However, the date blocks on some of them were modified to include the year. In most army post offices, both types of date stamp were used at the same time.

New date stamps (except for Bavarian models) also featured a time of mail collection followed by V (Vormittag: morning) or N (Nachmittag: afternoon).

The special feature of German date stamps was that they could include a letter of the alphabet in addition to the postal information. This letter could go as far as "d" and was used to differentiate between copies of date stamps used jointly or consecutively in the same office. These “differentiation” letters (Unterscheidungsbuchstabe) have been used by both civilian and military postal services since 1875.

German Field Post was organised into 3 types of post office. Each of them had a differently worded date stamp.

- Army corps post offices: Feldpostamt

They handled the mail of the Army Corps. They were run by a Field Postmaster (Feldpostmeister). These offices controlled the divisional offices.

Prussian date stamp

Saxon date stamp

Prussian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

- Divisional post offices: Feldpostexpedition

These post offices managed the mail of the Divisions. They were subordinate to the Corps post offices.

Prussian date stamp

Prussian date stamp

Saxon date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

- Sedentary post offices: Feldpoststation

These offices handled the mail of troops in the rear area for a fairly long period. They were normally sedentary, but as the conflict progressed, some were able to move to other towns.

Prussian date stamp

Prussian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Bavarian date stamp

Corps and Division post offices were mobile. Sedentary post offices served units that were assigned to a particular location for a fairly long period of time.

As the conflict progressed and the trench warfare took hold, it became obvious that these date stamps were too explicit and enabled Allied agents to pinpoint the exact location of German units.

As a result, from 15 February 1917, post offices changed their names, and it was no longer possible to identify units using date stamps. Post offices were therefore to receive.

- camouflaged" date stamps (Tarnspempel) bearing the words "Deutsche Feldpost" plus a number. The unit post offices (Feldpostamt and Feldpostexpedition) took the numbers 650 to 1021, while the sedentary post offices (Feldpoststation) took the numbers 1 to 649 and 2001 to 3113. These date stamps can only be found on registered letters or letters containing valuables.

- Dumb or star date stamps (Stummen Stempel) bearing the words "Deutsche Feldpost" and 3 stars.

In addition, by 15 February 1917 very few offices had received a new model of date stamp. Field post offices were therefore instructed to file off any markings that might identify a post office or unit. These filed date stamps were to be used until the new model was received. However, as there was a delay in producing the new models, first the new post offices were equipped, then those that had lost or broken their date stamps and finally those that still had a filed date stamp.

As a result, some field post offices never received a dumb date stamp and continued to use their filed one until the end of the war. Even so, this did not fool Allied spies, who were able to reconstruct the filed date stamps. It was therefore decided in October 1917 that each field post office of the same Army should exchange its filed date stamp with another.

Extract from the 1st Army news paper dated 1st February 1917 (Somme-Wacht n° 12 01/02/1917).

« On 15th February 1917, as announced in the “Army Official Journal”, the following provisions on addresses for items sent by Field Post will come into force:

In the addresses, are forbidden all indications on the theatres of operations, the belonging to Armies, Army Groups, Army Detachments, Army Corps, Divisions and Brigades. The indication of a High Command may only follow the addresses of their members. The addresses may contain only the indication of a Corps up to the maximum level of Regiment, i.e.: Regiment, Battalion (Detachment) and Company (Battery, Squadron) or independent Battalion (Detachment), Company (Battery, Squadron), or the official mark of particular formations (High Command, Column, airmen, radio operators, etc.).

Nothing should be added except the indication of the Regiment, Battalion (Detachment), Company (Battery, Squadron), not even the Feldpost number to the name of the troops belonging to a Regiment.

In addition to the names of troops that do not belong to any Regiment (independent Battalions, High Staffs, Columns, airmen, radio operators, etc.), the address must include the words "Deutsche Feldpost Nr....". The Feldpost number should be requested from the relevant field post office. For members of Corps Staffs, Divisions and Brigades, the Feldpost number must remain in the address. All Corps and Division post offices are identified accordingly by the words “Deutsche Feldpost” and a number.

Army post addresses should be written as follows, for example:

a) No indication of a Feldpost number in addition to the Regiment.

An Unteroffizier Friedrich Müller

Infanterie-Regiment 91.

1. Bataillon

3. Kompagnie

b) With indication of a Feldpost number, as it does not belong to a Regiment.

An Jäger August Meyer

Jäger-Bataillon

2. Kompagnie

Deutsche Feldpost N° 180

c) With a Feldpost number, as this particular formation did not belong to a Regiment.

An Trainsoldat Otto Schulz

Reserve-Fuhrpark-Kolonne n° 190

Deutsche Feldpost N° 180

Military personnel are responsible for notifying their relatives of their new addresses. Relatives must be notified each time there is a change of address.

Unit or service stamps:

Unlike date stamps, unit stamps were not part of the military post office's equipment.

These stamps were produced by private firms at the request and expense of the various units (regiments, battalions, companies, etc.).

As a result, there were many types. It is estimated that there were nearly half a million different types. These stamps very briefly described the name of the unit and often the number or name of the field post office to which it was attached. Frequently, these descriptions are very brief and end up being nothing more than a succession of initials or abbreviations that are difficult to understand. After several months of war, these unit stamps became a little more explicit at the request of the Army Post Office. These abbreviations were difficult to understand, even for postmen.

These marks were not postal, but they served an important purpose: they ensured that the letter or card could be postage free. They were also used to prove that the sender was a soldier, or at least an authorised person. Soldiers often added their name, rank, unit, and the number of the post office serving their unit by hand to the card or envelope. Mail without the unit stamp or a note written by the sender could be refused and returned.

These unit stamps were used until the end of the war. They were frequently applied in advance on blank cards or envelopes.

It was very common for certain cards or envelopes to bear only the unit stamp. In fact, military post offices were instructed not to apply their date stamps when postal traffic was very heavy. This was to save time and avoid missing the departure of the mail convoy.